Start with Content Strategy and Win at Websites
Figuring out where to start can feel like the hardest part of a new website project. From those starting from scratch, creating a blog on a subject they feel passionate about to well-established corporations seeking to build sales and grow their customer base, all of the tasks involved in getting to a finished site can seem daunting. But things get a whole lot easier, some might even call it fun, when you start with the right plan, and that begins with a content strategy.
Communication Is (Still) Key
The key to having your project be successful is building a solid foundation around your message. That may seem obvious but I can’t tell you how often I see this step overlooked. It’s so important to get everyone on the same page (even if it’s just a one-person project) with regards to defining that message. You should be able to answer the question, “Why should someone visit?” or even better, “What’s in it for them?”
What are you trying to say to your customer? What “voice” do you want to say it in, formal or conversational? If you want them to buy something, you better be clearly laying out why they should choose your product over your competitors’. If your site itself is your product (as is the case with a blog or online service), you’ve got to make sure you’re always giving them value. If you’re new to creating a site, you might think just getting something posted is enough and Google will take care of the rest, driving people to you, but that’s just not the reality. Like everything else, you’ve got to work at it.
Think about the sites you visit regularly. How many do you come back to every day solely because the design is beautiful? Now how many do you visit regularly because you’re interested in the content? The most beautiful web design in the world won’t save a site with uninteresting, poorly thought out content. People just won’t care. The way to get people to care is to engage them and provide value.
So, the way to ensure success is to nail that content first. This content phase should happen before any design starts, because the design’s “voice” must match the content’s. Incidentally, VisionSpark won’t write all of your content for you, but our User Experience and Project Management expertise can be invaluable with all of these steps should you decide you want the professionals to handle it.
Step 1: Define the message. What’s the primary message to my user? Think of it as your elevator pitch, that should permeate the site at all times. Examples might be “We have the cheapest lawn care prices in town,” “We’re a restaurant that’s won awards for its cuisine,” or “My site will give you all the up-to-the-minute news on smartphones.” The major takeaway here is having this message be a guidepost to the rest of your content to ensure it never strays too far off-topic.
Step 2: Define what users’ reasons for visiting are and what paths they’ll take through your site. In other words, what they’re doing when they get here. Are they paying a bill? Make it easy and quick. Are they here for the latest news? Don’t bury it among old news. It’s helpful here to create user personas of who you think your average user will be. Make 3 or 4 of them and get detailed. “Mary, a 34-year-old mother of two and who’s not very tech-savvy, uses the site to pay her bill.”
Step 3: Take an inventory of your existing content and plan what content you’ll create. This includes making sure all your content is in the same voice mentioned earlier. Excluding credited writing pieces, which can have their own style, it’ll be too confusing if the voices abruptly change from page to page. Don’t let the content-creators say they need a design first. In this phase, everything SHOULD live in text files, and it should be engaging without the pretty colors of the upcoming design. You might want to create a rough sitemap now, but it should only serve as a loose guide at this point.
Step 4: You should now be in a great position to start organizing your content into “buckets” and this step is hugely important, because you’ll see your navigation take shape. Between static information and processes you’ve discovered through user personas, you should have a full-fledged navigation system by the end of this step. As you do this, you’ll have a better idea what your sitemap should look like, and you should now work to finalize it and your navigation. You might make changes later, but try to make all the big decisions before proceeding.
That’s it. Now again, all this might seem obvious or trivial, but I’ve personally been on teams that have adhered to this plan, and some that haven’t, and I promise you’ll save a ton of hours, frustration, and wheel-spinning if you respect the content plan. Of course, VisionSpark’s speciality is helping our clients through this phase and all the phases that follow, so if you’re interested in hiring us or want to tell us about your upcoming project, get in touch and happy content planning!